It takes courage to commit something of this magnitude – “We are committed to providing uninterrupted, cheap and quality power to the people.” I want you to focus on the three words -‘uninterrupted’, ‘cheap’ and ‘quality’. Although cheap and quality together sound bit of an oxymoron, I sincerely hope that the Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal is not just selling Utopia to the citizens.
What came out from his recent statements is crystal clear. The Government is “ready for any eventuality”, even if the Supreme Court scraps all 218 coal block allocations. At a time when almost everyone is putting the blame on coal supply shortage, Goyal has a somewhat different view. According to him, there’s no shortage in coal supply but the coal production had become stagnant in the last four years. His 100-day report card suggests that the ministry has managed to use existing resources to increase coal-based power generation by 21.4% from the previous year.
Why India imports coal from abroad
The fact is, India has the world’s fifth-largest coal reserve, which is 61 billion tonnes. Yet, supply bottlenecks compel many power firms to import coal from abroad. While private players source fuel from their own mines overseas, not all State players can afford to import.
Coming back to the “transformative change” in power sector that Goyal has been talking about, it is imperative to understand what viable options the Government is exploring to ensure round-the-clock power supply in the next few years.
According to the Union Minister, the Government has accelerated work on increasing coal production and also requested the apex court to exempt some 40 coal blocks which are in production, from cancellation. Those blocks produced 37 million tonnes of coal last year and this year’s output is expected to be 50 million tonnes. Moreover, to ensure adequate supply of coal for power plants, Coal India Ltd (CIL) has set 1 billion tonne production target by 2019, which is double its current levels.
Going by the news reports, the Government has expedited the process of building three rail lines in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha, which will facilitate increased output by up to 200 million tonnes by 2021-22. The State-owned CIL has decided to purchase 250 additional rakes worth INR 5,000 crore to evacuate more coal to power plants.
Alternative sources of energy
Although coal has long been considered as the answer to India’s energy problems, it is time we understood that we need a Plan B since coal production can’t keep pace with the energy demand. The commitment of 24X7 supply of power to Delhi, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh would sound more feasible when the Power Ministry shifts focus to towards sustainable energy.
The Union Minister had something substantial to put across. He has confirmed the Government’s decision to replace 25-year old thermal power plants with new technology and convert them into ‘super critical’ power stations having more production capacity. It was assuring to know that speedy environmental clearances for coal and power projects and “renewed thrust to wind power capacity addition” are among the priorities for the Power Ministry. Clearance of long-pending transmission projects worth INR 12,272 crore was another silver lining.
As power sector looks to be teeming with developments, we hope that Modi Government doesn’t shy away from taking tough calls to meet its commitment of providing power to the last man standing in the country.